football Edit

If Necessary, Polino Ready To Play Center

A guard for four years at UNC, Nick Polino (58) just may be the Tar Heels' starting center this coming season.
A guard for four years at UNC, Nick Polino (58) just may be the Tar Heels' starting center this coming season. (Jenna Miller, THI)

CHAPEL HILL – Will Nick Polino line up at center when North Carolina takes the field versus South Carolina on Aug. 31 to kick off the upcoming football season?

That’s a great question and one that Polino doesn’t know the answer. But there’s a good chance he will be there because the Tar Heels have a need now that Jay-Jay McCargo retired for medical reasons in April. Sophomore Brian Anderson is the other option unless someone else enters the picture during fall camp next month.

The thing is, this was something the staff was looking at before McCargo's decision. Polino playing center gives the Tar Heels a chance at having their five best offensive linemen on the field at the same time versus the Gamecocks.

UNC is loaded with talent at guard, the position Polino has played since he arrived in Chapel Hill four years ago. But if he’s at center, it frees up playing time for some supremely talented young football players.

So, with McCargo sidelined during spring practice with the injury that later ended his career, the staff moved Polino over to center to get in some work. He struggled at times the first couple of days but started getting the hang of it, and by the time camp ended, Polino had grown immeasurably in the position.

Polino (58) during last year's win over Pittsburgh.
Polino (58) during last year's win over Pittsburgh. (Jenna Miller, THI)

So, will offensive line coach Stacy Searels stick with Polino at center thus freeing up what could be a trio of Ed Montilus, William Barnes and Billy Ross to log many of the snaps at the two guard spots?

“I’m not opposed to it,” Polino said. “Versatility is always helpful, you can never have enough guys that know how to snap the ball.”

He’s right, and it also the most difficult job on the offensive line. Snapping while staying low and exploding off the snap is challenging enough, but the center must also make a lot of verbal calls in pre-snap, so it’s far more involved than playing guard.

“I’ve still got to get comfortable doing some stuff, gotta get a little more consistent with my snaps…,” said Polino, who has started 14 of the 31 games he’s played as a Tar Heel. “Other than that, it’s similar to guard. You’re still on the inside you’ve just got to think about snapping the ball first, which is a little bit different.”

Polino during last year's game versus N.C. State.
Polino during last year's game versus N.C. State. (Jenna Miller, THI)

Maybe transitioning this past spring was the right time for the staff to make this move, if it’s one they discussed in the winter not long after coming aboard the Carolina program. McCargo’s injury necessitated the move, but it’s certain one Mack Brown can live with. At least for now. In fact, even if McCargo was healthy and in the mix Polino might still have won the job.

“Nick’s so smart and he’s tough, he can either guard or center…,” UNC’s new coach said. “He and Brian Anderson right now would be the centers.”

The 6-foot-4 Buford, GA, native isn’t too worried about it.

“I think it will kind of be wherever the chips fall, I guess at that point,” Polino said, noting when he will know for certain what the plan is moving forward. “I haven’t really had any extensive talks with coach Searels about it, I’m just going wherever the team needs me right now. And in August or September if they need me at center I’ll be at center.

“Obviously, I’ve played four years at guard so I’m a little more comfortable there, but I’m not opposed to playing center.”

Maybe Polino is so capable and valuable he will play both.